Picking Up The Pieces

Picking Up The Pieces

Have you ever felt like your life is in shambles, and Christmas cheer stands in stark contrast to the pieces of your broken life? You might be closer to the heart of Advent than you know.  Join Jordan and Megan McFall as they journey through the scriptures that paint the Christmas story, and experience the Christ Child who came to restore hope, peace, joy, and love to our messy and chaotic lives.

This study is divided into four weeks following the themes of hope, joy, peace and love. Each week we will journey together daily looking to reclaim these things in our lives.  In addition to the daily devotional and reflection times throughout the four weeks, in the back of the book there are guides for four small group sessions as we encourage you to not go through this journey alone.  Use this study with a group you are a part of, or invite new people to join you as you embark on the journey of picking up the pieces of Advent hope, joy, peace and love.

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The cloud of cynicism eclipsed by the light of love 

The cloud of cynicism eclipsed by the light of love 

Over the last few weeks, my mood has gotten increasingly dark. Hope has proven itself to be scarce, and deep despair has sprung up like unwelcome weeds in my mind and heart. I’ve grown bitter, grumpy, antagonistic, and jaded.  

Part of the cause of my dark season has been pure exhaustion. No one in our house is sleeping well. Part of the cause of my soul-darkness is medication mishaps. Prednisone, psychologically speaking, is clearly not my friend. In addition, my treatment team has been having conversations about their own fear of the potential fatality of my conditions and what long-term prognosis looks like. With all of these factors at play, my typical resilient ability to reframe my daily suffering has been less than stellar. 

I find myself tired of fighting what feels like a losing battle for my body, I feel tired of desperately trying to maintain my tenuous grip on hope in a situation that appears hopeless, and I am tired of living this life of passing out, unexpected and unexplained reactivity,  chronic pain, and total dependency.  I am tired of playing wack-a-mole with 15 symptoms at once, wielding faulty mallets. I am bone-exhausted. 

I wrestle with God over healing, and I read of the “severe mercies” of God: when God withholds something good because He possibly knows something that we don’t (St. Augustine, Confessions XI, 25). 

But really, God? I’m too tired to see good in this. I’m too sick to feel hope.  And, if I’m really honest, I’m almost offended by this “severe mercy” concept right now. It seems a little bit like mockery.  And yet I know that God is good, that He is for me, not against me, that He loves me. 

I know that I will continue to pray for healing, and I know that for reasons that can’t always be grasped by my measly human brain, He doesn’t always heal. And I have my toddler-style tantrums when the medical tests yeild no clear-cut answers, when treatment is a continual crap-shoot because no one seems to know what to do with me. I sit and pout, looking longingly at the sky for that one rain cloud that will bring the much-needed refreshment for my body and soul. And I have snarky, angry comments for God when not even a single measly cloud floats in to give me a sign of possible rain.  

My humble honesty of the past when I approached God in grief on my knees is precariously teetering on the edge of a cliff called cynicism. I am entering into the danger-zone of hostile, accusing, finger-pointing.  The result of humble, grief-stricken, heart-wide-open brokenness is communion with God in suffering. When we come to God with  fist-throwing, accusation-hurling fury, we run the risk of walking away in entitled bitterness, estranged from our life-source. 

In this season, I am tempted to choose to be offended by God and interpret lack of healing as abandonment.  I am inclined to curl in a ball and believe that it is God who continues to hit me when I am down. Worse yet, I start to believe that He has walked away, apathetic to my agony.

But this is my opportunity to employ some sound DBT strategies. I can choose to engage in the opposite-to-emotion tool that I know has carried me through difficult times. God has a host of promises that are unchanging. These are the promises that I can count on:

Never will He leave me or forsake me. ( Hebrews 13:5)

Because of His great love we are not consumed. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. ( Lamentations 3:22)

Neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor demons, nor anything else in all creation is able to separate me from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. ( 2 Corinthians 4:8)

My heart has grown uncomfortably hard, and I am ready for some softening. God’s promises knead my heart and soften it just enough for the fog of disillusionment to lift and for me to rememember the Father’s deep, deep love for me.  

Don’t get me wrong, God can handle our anger and accusations. He will not turn from us when we bring whatever broken mess we carry to Him, even when we are furious with Him.  He also wants to show us how deeply and unbelievably loved we are. And when we cling to the anger, resentment, and offense like they are our best friends, we tend to build walls up against the loving God of the universe (from our side). 

It is time for me to lay down my God-thrashing weapons and come to Him on my knees once again,  open to whatever healing may look like.  It’s time to drop the cold, bitter cynicism.  God wants to wash my offense away with His love.  

What if I’m not physically healed? I will not fear, because I will still have Jesus, and He is more than enough. 

What Really Matters

I continue to play wack-a-mole with my symptoms.  I don’t feel like I am moving forward or backward.  I’m just desperately trying to keep my head and the heads of my dependent little ones above water.  I am exhausted.  I collected a couple more probable diagnoses: Mast Cell Activation Disorder (my body thinks that it is allergic to pretty much the entire world and produces too much histamine. This makes me feverish, achy, dizzy, itchy, and miserable.); Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (my body has too much collagen in joints, skin, and in my vascular system.  This makes me stretchy, which is cool in theory, but not cool in reality. It hurts, really badly, because my body is trying to hold my joints together, and my veins and arteries don’t properly circulate blood).  These two diagnoses often occur with the POTS diagnosis.   So we try ten different kinds of medications, desperately attempting to add a couple pounds, and cross our fingers that my quality of life can start to creep up somewhere above just staying alive.  

I have also completed a series of neurological testing (6 hours, total), which yielded fascinating, albeit somewhat discouraging results.  My short term memory, attention span, word recall, and executive functioning skills are suffering. They aren’t horrendous, but juxtaposed with my actual IQ, they are remarkably low. The neuropsychologist says that this is directly caused by the POTS. Limited blood flow to the brain and times of hypoxia can lead to brain function that looks similar to mine. Interestingly enough, so can traumatic brain injuries. Fortunately, if the POTS symptoms can remain under control, my cognitive function will not continue to decline, according to this guy, but he made no mention of any possible improvement; only coping mechanisms: the same ones that they provide for someone who has a traumatic brain injury.

I like to consider myself to be an intellectual, a deep-thinker, a writer, a teacher, a nerd. This whole cognitive decline thing is a massive blow to my ego and to my self-image. What is interesting, however, is that with this illness that has robbed me of my ability to remember conversations that I just had yesterday and caused me to have to think for a full 30 seconds to remember a word as simple as “book”, I have come to a deeper, more beautiful, profound understanding of my Savior than I ever thought possible. Cognitive decline is terrible, painful, and humiliating, but the “knowledge” of my God who meets me in my sickness, brokenness, and suffering far surpasses any knowledge that a fully functioning brain can attain without Him. 

Ephesians 4:14-19 says,  

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

I love the contrast of the two forms of knowledge presented in this passage. God calls us to an experiential, face-to-face knowledge of Himself, a knowledge that, through the power of the Spirit, allows us the ability to experience the breadth and the depth, and the length, and the height of the magnificent love of Christ.  This knowledge is not the form of cognition that I have lost. I know more of this Christ now than I ever knew before the POTS and the EDS and the MCAD and all the other health issues that are present in my body. 

God’s kindness prevails. His goodness is undeniable. God’s presence is here, in the midst of my suffering, as we wack the mole that rears its ugly head at any given moment.  This is the knowledge of the Holy attained as sickness of earth ushers me into the sacred this spaces of heaven. I don’t know that I would trade it.  Yes, it takes me a crazy long time to write sometimes incomprehensible blog posts. I can’t follow a train of thought as far as I can throw it.  But I know the Christ of my salvation, my suffering King, and He loves me. 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39

Sacred Beauty

Sacred Beauty

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns.”   Isaiah 52:7

Sweet Sylvia stands in my life as the grandmother that I never had. In her upper 70’s, or maybe early 80’s, she represents unquestionable beauty. We spend Friday mornings together, as she picks me up at eight AM for my weekly doctor’s appointment and subsequent infusion at the local hospital. She has “adopted” me and loved me through a season of uncertainty and suffering. She tells me of God’s work in her life, and mirrors back where she sees God working in my life. She is the most beautiful woman I know.

Before I really knew what beauty was, long before I met Sylvia, I was brainwashed regarding beauty. At 11 years old, I was recovering from having my tonsils removed. I hadn’t been able to eat solid food for a little over a week, and I had just returned to school as a newly tonsil-free sixth grader. I walked into my math class, and my teacher greeted me with a smile. “Wow, Megan! You lost a lot of weight. You look just like a princess.” I beamed. My false narrative of beauty was confirmed. With the lies of my childhood further validated, I marched forward into adolescence with a commitment to “beauty” that would involve relentless weight-loss leading to a severe eating disorder. As a result, I would be hospitalized so many times that I lost count of treatment stays. I would break five bones before the age of 30, and spend about 5,250 hours at the gym or pounding the pavement in a span of seven years. I thought that this was the road to beauty.

For the vast majority of my early life, I believed whole-heartedly that beauty was rooted in thinness. I knelt at the altar of “skinny” for 20 solid years, sacrificing my entire life for the number on the scale. Please understand, eating disorders are much more complex than simply worshipping thinness.   My eating disorder encompassed many levels of brokenness, from chemical imbalances, reenactment of childhood abuse and trauma, to deep self-hatred. In the midst of the broken terrain of my life, beauty did, however, become synonymous with thinness.

The echoes of those deeply ingrained stories still bounce off the walls of my soul at times, and I search the mirror for signs of thinness that the ghost-voices still whisper to be beauty.   A new concept of beauty is slowly emerging, however, and the Holy Spirit is whispering a new story into my heart as I engage in relationship with God and with others. This beauty has nothing to do with a number sewn onto my pants or bouncing around on a scale. It is irrelevant to prominent cheek-bones or thigh gaps.

This beauty is etched in laugh-lines, gray hairs, sparkling eyes, and stretch marks. This is the beauty where the image of Christ radiates through the cracks in surrendered, broken veneers. This is the beauty that evokes the statement, “When I am with you, I feel the presence of God.” This is the beauty that draws others into a warm embrace when they feel isolated and lonely. This is the beauty of self-giving, pouring out the overflow of the abundance of Christ. This beauty is the opposite of exclusivity; it is a welcoming, warm, comforting beauty that makes those around it feel profoundly valuable. This beauty is found in unlikely places, in the eyes of the weathered and elderly, in the hands of the sick and feeble, in the words of the vulnerable and unmasked.

Just as it has done with so many sacred, God-authored elements of life, culture through the power of the enemy has obscured, perverted, and reversed beauty. We almost cannot even remember what beauty truly means. C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory (1965), says:

We do not merely want to see beauty, thought, even God knows, that is beauty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

This beauty is true beauty, as we are formed into “little Christs,” as Lewis frequently calls Christians through the process of sanctification.

I am 34. I have found a few grey hairs over the past year. Childbirth and illness have weathered my visage. It has also formed me more into the image of my true love, Christ. According to my understanding of beauty, this has only made me more beautiful. I am not excellent at make-up application. I don’t always have the energy to fix my hair or the resources to maintain freshly shaped eyebrows, but God has assured me of this truth:

“You are altogether beautiful my darling. There is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7).

No matter how I manipulate my appearance, there is no assurance that the mirror will reflect cultural standards of beauty. What I do know without a doubt, however, is that when I enter into communion with my Lord, He shows me His beauty. I am able to enter into that beauty, to embody it, and as Lewis so elegantly states, to bathe in it, and to carry it into the world. In the presence of the Beautiful One, I can become part of the beauty of Christ, and I can draw others into true beauty.

And here is the sacred secret of beauty: The more the beauty of Christ shines upon us, the more we can see Christ’s beauty in others. As we incarnate Christ and we see His incarnation in others, we do what Lewis alludes to. We allow others to see the beauty of Christ and see themselves as truly beautiful. We become beautiful and spread beauty to the rest of the world, just as my precious friend Sylvia does. As I see Jesus in her face, I see beauty, am set free from the lies of what I once believed beauty to be, and I realize how truly beautiful I am.

My friends, we are beautiful because we represent the image of Christ. We draw others into that beauty when they see Christ in us. There is no greater beauty than the Imago Dei, and praise the Lord, we can all stand in the truth that we bear this beauty.

Our Truth-Telling God

I have a unique opportunity this evening.  I am sitting in my husband’s office at the church, pretending to be professional.  The children are in the nursery, my husband is at the satellite campus working on technical issues for Sunday, and I have two hours to myself in a real office just to be an adult. (I am a giddy, excited, child-like adult right now.)  I am currently rocking out to the Mark Swayze band, and my mind is like simmering pot boiling over with ideas for writing.  Where to begin…

This adult time is excellent timing.  There is much to say. God is so incredibly at work, and I haven’t the foggiest idea where to begin.  Jordan (my husband) and I attended a conference last week. We boarded an actual airplane, just the two of us, slept through the night, and had the chance to finally go on our anniversary dinner (only a month late–our eyes were falling out of our faces and we were crying blood on our real anniversary–not an exaggeration, I promise!).

Jordan had to talk me into attending this conference.  I was set on attending one closer to home.  I relented after some cajoling, and I am so incredibly thankful that I did.  I knew it was going to be an awesome conference when we encountered many obstacles as we prepared to leave.  When one is on portable oxygen and has to fly somewhere, the process of flying is complicated.  The portable canisters are charged and pressurized.  They are not allowed on airplanes.  In my head, I picture massive explosions and bodies flying throughout the cabin . I don’t think that really happens, but you never know.  So instead of my normal oxygen canisters, I have to rent a portable oxygen concentrator.  If we were to purchase one, it would be thousands of dollars.  Insurance doesn’t cover these devices (they are considered a luxury, because, well, you know breathing is a luxury). So we had to rent one. Honestly,  I was not surprised that mine decided to malfunction before we boarded our first flight.  Every minute,  the blasted machine would alarm furiously until we shut it down.  Everyone around us would stop and stare.  Who knows what they thought we were harboring as we made our way through the airport.  The problem is that I need oxygen.  Thus, turning it off was not an option.  We finally found a way to outsmart the machine.  May I add that my husband is a genius?  In order to prevent the machine from alarming like it was about to explode, I was forced to push a button to change the flow about every thirty seconds for the entirety of our flights and layovers. Oh, and you can’t just trade it out at another oxygen supply company when you arrive at your destination. No.  That horrid machine has to be returned to the location where you rented it.  Thus, the process of pushing buttons every 30 seconds for six hours was repeated on our way home.  Snag one.

The other snags were somewhat expected.  My throat developed that telltale scratchy feeling that always results in a nasty cold the night before we flew out for the conference.  So began my cold that continues to this day.  Picture this:  Your oxygen is delivered through a tube that goes into your nose.  Your nose is a snotty mess.  You can’t breathe through your nose.  Bad news.  The day that we arrived I also got a stomach bug.  We are talking constant diarrhea.  I had no idea that a body could produce so much crap.  And now I know.  Totally bad for POTS.  It lasted the entirety of the conference.  True to form, however, I pushed through.  I attended all of the sessions, times of worship, and prayer meetings.  I’m not saying this is good.  It is in reality kind of crazy.  But I didn’t really consider staying back at the hotel and sleeping.  Not when I came this far and God obviously had a huge plan for this week, as evidenced by all of the obstacles that were jumping in our way. I was way too curious to stay in bed. Thankfully, He sustained me while I was being psycho.  Hopefully, I didn’t infect too many poor souls while being reckless.

So here’s what happened:

God affirmed me so beautifully.  He told me that He is proud of me.  He revealed to me more fully what I am passionate about:  Prayer, writing, and worship.  He told me that I didn’t have to try so hard.  I don’t have to try to exceed my body’s capacity.  He is using me in the here and now, in my broken body, to expand His kingdom.  He said that I am gifted and He delights in me. He said over and over again that He loves me.  I learned about what He is doing in the global church. Guys, it is MASSIVE.  He is totally at work, like all over the world.  I want to be in on it.   We can be in on it.  In order to be in on His work, we have to start with prayer.  Prayer is the starting point.  Without prayer, the church is dying.   With prayer, like true repentant, travailing, awe-filled, desperate prayer, we have hope for life.   We have to wake ourselves up.

I struggled too.  I have lived a life marked by weakness that is evident to others.  I find myself desperate to prove myself as strong and capable.  I feel chronically less than the other people around me.  It is almost like I have to look up to them from my stooped down position. This position does not lend itself well to symbiotic relationships and friendships.  I so want to feel equal to others.  I want to be able to keep up with them, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, but I have lived a life that has felt stunted and dwarfed.  We knew many people at the conference with whom we attended seminary.  I feared that they would see me this time as they saw me in seminary: limited, pitiful, not friend material.   With 1,600 people attending this conference, I was the only one walking around on oxygen,  clearly underweight, malnourished, sickly.  I got the pity-smiles, lots of sympathetic compliments on my glasses, and curious stares.  NOT WHAT I WANTED.  I wanted to scream, ” I AM TOUGH! I AM DOING AWESOME! DON’T YOU DARE PITY ME.”  People who knew me from seminary lovingly asked me or Jordan what was happening that I had to be on oxygen.  Jordan was excellent at presenting a concise and accurate story about my medical situation.  I, on the other hand, somewhat (ahem, totally) in denial, hemmed and hawed and tripped over my words, trying to minimize the situation and diffuse any concern that might arise from others. (Concern makes me squirmy).  This led to the blockage of real conversations.  I was just so desperate to be normal, for once. Not to be pitiful and weak.

So if you are tracking with me,  here I am, being loved and cheered on by my Lord while simultaneously wrestling with my core identity issues which really trip me up in my interpersonal relationships.  God obviously knows what He’s doing.  As I write this, it is clear that He was telling me exactly what I needed to hear.  I am enough.  I am complete. He is proud of me.  He is at work in me.  He loves me.  I am beautiful to Him.  I, in the mean time, am wrestling these lies that have followed me through the decades that scream that I am worthless, pitiful, and ultimately a black hole in the world.  What contradictions!  I’m pretty positive that God is a truth-teller.  I asked Jordan to fact check the messages that God was giving me.  He said that they are in line with the God he knows and with the Word.  And I got this cool book mark that also says all those things that God was telling me.  So it was legit. The bookmark proves it.

Now I have a responsibility and a gift.  My mission is to be set free from the shame.  I am commissioned to begin to believe these truths about myself as a daughter of God.  He is re-framing my personal narrative and cleaning up my resume.   I asked Him in the shower this morning if I am a mistake, and He said that I am absolutely not a mistake.  He again said how much He loves me.  I am asking Him to show me what it may look like for me to be set free from the self-hate and shame.  He is providing glimpses.  In response to our shower prayer time this morning, God sent two people to tell me today that I look like Jesus.  Yep.  He’s pretty amazing.  And I believe that He is transforming my identity.  This is the healing that He has for me.  The dawn is coming, and the night will soon be over.

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is in your midst. A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. 

Mental Health and the Church

I step into this post cautiously because I do not, in any way, want to rank suffering.  Suffering is suffering, and pain is pain. Each person experiences it in his or her own way, and each person’s experience is valid and real.  Some may experience physical illness as the lowest point of their lives, others may experience the loss of a loved one as the bottom of the pit.  Others may say that betrayal and rejection has been the most agonizing experience.  I am simply here to share my experiences of suffering and God’s presence through those seasons.

As people have approached me in sympathy, compassion, and pity for my physical suffering over the past few years, primarily the past couple months,  I have felt a rainbow of emotions.  I have parts all over the place clambering about with different responses to the compassion and care of others.  Some say, “This is what I deserve. If you knew how terrible I am, you wouldn’t feel sorry for me.”  Others say, ” Oh, thank you. Please sit with me and hold me while I cry.”  Others say, “What are you talking about?  I’m not really sick.  This is all going to wash over soon when the doctors realize that all of these numbers and tests are wrong.  I’ll be fully functioning again before you know it.”  Still others say, “Do you have any idea where I’ve been during my 34 years?  This suffering doesn’t even seem like suffering compared to the torture and pain that the first 29 years of my life held.  Please don’t feel sorry for me.  My life is glorious.”

While some of these parts are legitimate voices coming from different broken pieces of me, I believe that some of them are a little bit more grounded in truth and healing.   I’ve addressed several of these parts in previous posts, but there is one that has popped up more frequently over the past week.  It also seems appropriate for this day when we open up awareness to suicide and suicide prevention.

In public, I do not respond to the sympathy of others with statements like, “oh, this is nothing compared to what I’ve been through in the past.  Living through severe physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse, 20 years of anorexia, major depression, anxiety, and three suicide attempts really took the cake. Being on portable oxygen, needing a wheelchair to get around, and getting infusions twice weekly while still not really knowing the cause of my life-threatening symptoms is kind of like paradise compared to what I’ve lived through.”  For some reason, that doesn’t feel appropriate.  But it is tempting sometimes.

This is an aside from this particular post: As I have reflected on my last post about God’s healing,  I have explored my resistance to praying for physical healing.  I believe that indeed through my suffering, God has shown me a deeper, more intimate form of prayer than I have experienced before.  I believe that while it is important to pray for physical healing, it is easy to miss the more soul-level healing that God longs to perform in us.  I see Him working that soul-healing in my life every day.  I also think that I have some issues of worthiness of healing. I struggle to believe that my physical body is worthy of wholeness and healing.  This belief is based in my trauma-brain and messages that I learned through the years. I am having to sort out what are messages from God about healing of mind, spirit, and body, and what messages are lies imparted by the enemy through the voices, actions, and inactions of primary caregivers in my life.  This gets tricky, because they are tangled up like a mess of necklace chains that have been shaken around in a jewelry box for way too long.   There are some really valuable pieces of jewelry knotted in the mess, so I can’t just toss it all out.  Please bear with me as I painstakingly untangle my mess of necklace-chain beliefs.

What I really want to communicate in this post is that emotional, mental, and spiritual agony is real, and it is terrible.  Those who suffer with these difficult issues desperately need community, support, unrelenting love, and pursuance, whether they act like they want it or not.   I needed it.  I needed people, and I didn’t have them.  My issues terrified people.  There were no easy answers or easy fixes.  There was no fool-proof medication or one specialist who could take my case and find a cure.  It was so easy to blame me, the one with the mental illnesses, severe trauma, and brain on fire.  I was so desperately incapable of helping myself, but I was considered untouchable.  That was a disastrous recipe.  My unspeakable trauma was the blackest darkness of my first 15 years, and my suicide attempts housed the blackest darkness of my second 15 years.  There is no possible way that words can capture the darkness of suicide, and there is no possible way to explain the impact that surviving three suicide attempts has on your heart and mind.  I needed community, love, and support.  I was utterly unable to care for myself.  I found massive amounts of judgment and condemnation.  No one knew what to do with me as a suicidal person.  So they stayed at arms length and hurled accusations.

“You are so selfish.”

“You let everyone down.”

“We can never trust you again.”

“You must not be a real Christian.”

This was the bottom of the pit.  I. failed. everyone.  Or so I thought.

Being physically ill is rough.  There are days that I think I might die.  Sometimes this is a legitimate thought.  There are days that I have to squint really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and even then, I just have to imagine it being there.  But I am surrounded by love.  I am so well cared-for (when I allow people to care for me).  God is bringing me higher up and deeper in.  This is not a black pit.  Too many people are bringing light into it.  Somehow, my soul has been awakened to the comfort that God is bringing into my pain.

The church is great at caring for the physically ill (at least my church is). But, friends, do we know who is looking into the abyss of ending it all?  Do we know who is up all hours of the night, dancing on the edge of sanity because of severe anxiety or OCD?  Do we know which mamas are facing postpartum mental health issues alone because they are too embarrassed to share the thoughts that are going through their sleep-deprived, hormone-imbalanced brains?  Are we even making eye contact with those who teeter on the edge of psychotic episodes on Sunday mornings?  Are we too afraid of them because we can’t fully understand what they are facing?  They don’t understand it either, and they desperately need community, love, fellowship, and flashlights in their pits.  I needed all of those things.

Some people are caring for those suffering from mental and emotional issues like champions.  They make it their mission to shine light into their darkness, and they often even climb into the darkness, huddle next to those suffering alone, and offer their humanity, which, ironically, is where we see so much of the Divine.  I pray that we can jump on board.  Celebrate Recovery is incredible.  Support groups for sufferers and family members are great.  Please, please, lets not add to their shame and self-hate and isolation.   I am thankful for where I am, and in retrospect, I am thankful for what I have been through.  As a voice from the other side who has been through quite a bit of suffering,  I just want to advocate for those suffering from mental illness, and in particular, those who struggle with suicidal thoughts or actions. Unless you have been there, it is difficult to imagine the torment, and what do we need more than people to show us the face of God when we can’t catch a glimpse of His face on our own?

Prayer and Healing

I have a confession.  I can’t always remember what I have written about in the past, and I abhor reading my own writing, so I may write about the same issues over and over and have no idea that I am repeating myself.  My illness causes “brain fog” which includes issues with memory, and then my low oxygen also contributes to the decline of mental function.  My husband has to listen enthusiastically to the same stories on repeat, and only occasionally reminds me that I’ve shared them ten times before.  He is super-gracious.  He also has to hear the same “spiritual revelations” over and over.  They certainly feel brand-new to me, but he claims that I had that same revelation a month ago, and the month before that one, and actually every month over the past year.  At least never get bored.

My poor husband, and probably, you poor readers, might get bored frequently with my Fifty-First Dates fashioned writing.  Just call me Drew Barrymore, stick a DVD in the player every morning replaying my life and my hallmark moments for me, and call it good.

Skim the stuff that I’ve covered before.  I pray that my memory is not quite as bad as it seems, but I suspect that I circle around the same mountains frequently.  If I say, “Hey look at that gorgeous tree!! I’ve never seen anything quite that exquisite!” , you can respond with, “Oh yeah, we saw that about two weeks ago in this same spot.  We are going in circles.  Moving on.”  Then you can lead me by my precious little hand to a new path that we haven’t traversed.  Deal?  Okay.  Thanks.

Now that I’ve gotten my caveat out of the way, I can’t seem to remember what I was going to write about today.  Oh, yeah.  Healing.  My doctors are concerned.  I’m teetering on the edge of a danger-zone, health-wise, and that is lighting a fire under their butts.  This is good and bad.  It is good in that they may actually start really investing some energy in figuring out what is making my poor body malfunction so tremendously (now that they have significant documented evidence of the level of malfunction and the danger of the malfunctions).  It is bad in that my body is in a state of extreme limbo and there are critical issues that are becoming evident.  This is scary.  I don’t want to die, not anymore.  I want to be a wife and a mommy and a living human being.  I don’t want my heart to stop beating.  So I feel that I am being taken seriously.  Good and bad.

It is intuitive to assume that when one is sick, she thinks about healing quite frequently.  One will probably also encounter many people who speak of healing, who desire healing, who are praying fervently for her healing.  Most often, it is solely physical healing, because physical infirmity is the presenting issue.  Thus, over the past two years,  I have wrestled mightily with the issue of physical healing, God’s sovereignty, God’s will, God’s goodness, living in a fallen, broken world, and the purpose of pain and suffering.  I have looked at so many different perspectives on these matters.  Fortunately, I have not encountered many people who have thrown out condemning messages.  No one has come up to me and asked piously, “Who sinned?  Was it you, or your parents, or someone else who brought on this illness?”, as  Jesus’s disciples inquired of Him regarding the man blind from birth.  No one has said, “if you have enough faith you will be healed.”  No one has condemned me for not being healed yet, and no one has even said that it is all in my head (that has only been alluded to by a few friends).  I have been spared so much judgement and opposition, for which I am so thankful.  I would have been hard-pressed to endure much criticism or condemnation from others as most of my condemnation comes from my own mental arsenal of lies.  People, for the most part, have been understanding, kind, and compassionate.  I still struggle with what healing is supposed to look like for me, what to ask for from God, and if there is a larger picture of healing that I am missing because I am too close to the picture.

Last night, a dear group of ladies (powerful prayer warriors) offered to pray for me and for my husband.  We met them at the church and took turns being prayed over.  As the three warriors prayed over my husband,  I entertained our little ones in the nursery, and then we switched places.  These women mean business when they get together to pray, and my husband was in the sanctuary with them for an entire hour.  It was fast approaching the children’s bed-time, so when my turn came, I requested the abbreviated version of what Jordan received.  As I was voicing my concern about the kids’ bedtime and not taking up too much more time, I realized that I was coming up against an issue of worthiness.  I felt unworthy of extended prayer. I put the brakes on my request for a shorter prayer time, and I told them to pray as long as they felt led to pray.  It is a vulnerable position to put one’s self in, to be prayed over.  First of all, there is the whole “laying on of hands” thing.  We all know that I’m not one for being touched.  Then there is my control-freak nature that has to step down into a place of submission and passivity, or so I thought.  So as the praying started, I bowed my head and tried to take a passive position, just to let these warriors do the battling over me.  Ten minutes in, I felt a stirring in my Spirit to engage more actively, to softly whisper the name of Jesus, to breathe prayers of agreement, and to whisper prayers of the Spirit as He lead the way.  In actively engaging in the prayer session,  I felt a new investment in the prayer time.  I felt like one of the warriors going in for battle.  I was fighting alongside them, no longer a passive recipient of prayer.  I felt an overwhelming energy and joy rising up in my soul.

As the ladies continued to pray, I was aware of an overwhelming focus on physical healing.  I don’t believe that the focus on physical healing was bad, or out-of-place.  I’m not sure what I think of it honestly,  but I felt the Spirit whispering ceaselessly, “I want so much more than just physical healing for you. Do you see what I’m doing within your illness? I am healing you.”  I knew that He was calling me to praise Him.  He is so unbelievably faithful, and His faithfulness has been more evident during the past two years than I have ever seen before I got sick.  I did not feel a sense of urgency for physical healing.  I felt gratitude, deep, mirthful, joyful, soul-embracing thankfulness.  This seemed out of place for the type of praying that was going on.  I prayed out loud, the ladies prayed more.  They prayed scripture, the armor of God,  Psalm 91, and parts of James.  I am in agreement with their prayers.  They were theologically sound, and they flowed from hearts of love.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to be prayed over.  In addition,  I felt like I had a bit of a different vantage point.

I certainly can’t make complete sense out of suffering, any form of it.  I don’t believe that God’s perfect will involves illness, death, and sin.  My experience of suffering, however, shows me a picture of God that I have never seen before.  My brushes with death have offered a depth of agony that has been met with an equally powerful vision of God’s goodness and grace.  The desire to share in Christ’s sufferings is legit, to share in Christ’s death, so also to experience the power of the resurrection.  There is this trump card that He holds that He flashes to those who are in the depth of suffering.  It’s like He’s winking at us, saying, “Don’t worry.  I’ve got this.  No matter what happens, I am making all things right.”  I have never had that glimpse of God’s hand of cards until I was at the utter end of myself.

I don’t know.  I will keep praying for physical healing.  I want to be strong and healthy and capable.  Of course I do.  I don’t thrive in vulnerable places, like illness.  I also know that our vulnerable places are the soil in which our master Gardener loves to plant the seeds of the Kingdom.  So if I need to stay vulnerable for kingdom growth, I’m good with that.  If He physically heals, I will praise Him.  If He heals in other ways and chooses not to physically heal,  I will praise Him.   My Savior lives, and He redeems, and He heals.  Sometimes His healing just looks a little different than what we expect.